22nd January 1999 at 00:00
Q As a teacher-governor I am conscientious about consulting in the staffroom about matters coming before governors and never fail to pass on staff views. But I often wondered what I would do if I came to a different opinion from theirs.

It has never happened before, but now we are considering a plan to shorten the lunch break. We are not curtailing the school day or increasing taught time but using extra time after lessons for sport and clubs, and also making staff available, when not committed to such activities, for support with homework, revision guidance, library, etc.

Over-long lunch breaks often give rise to behaviour problems when few staff are on duty. Parents strongly favour the new plan. I must add that our school days will still be no longer and our lunch-hour no shorter than the norm in our city.

Most of the staff are against it but I really believe that it will improve the quality of life for our children, so I want to speak in its favour. Indeed, I think it wrong for teachers to put their own interests before this. But is this fair to those I respect?

A Yes, it is, as long as you faithfully report what the rest of the staff think and ensure that this is recorded. In the end, once parent and teacher-governors have reported the views of their groups, they should act according to conscience and the interests of the school as a whole.

I always admire teacher-governors who have the detachment to look at issues independently once in a while and the courage to follow them through. The views of both parents and teachers on the issue you describe are fairly predictable I suppose, but I have found that teachers' attitudes do change when they see a real improvement in the quality of children's school lives.

Do what you believe is right but do not judge your colleagues prematurely or too harshly. I am sure many already use the time at midday for clubs, lesson preparation or marking.

QOur head says we should not listen to concerns or complaints from individual parents and that this is not what governors are for. Comments please.

AIt is so natural for parents to approach governors informally when they see them about both personal and general concerns that it seems pointless to try to stop it.

I see the parent-governor role as including that of improving communication and smoothing the path to the school. The important thing is that they get heard and dealt with. What you must not do is take up issues and try to deal with them yourself, or act as a collecting box for concerns which are not governors' matters and dump them at meetings.

If many parents raise the same issue and it relates to school policy or practice you must mention it to the head and get it on the agenda. If parents bring up purely individual worries you must encourage them to go to the head. But you may be able to clear up misunderstandings from your knowledge of the school. You may be able to reassure parents that their concern is not trivial and will be sympathetically handled, or even offer to accompany them.

By the way, every governing body must have a procedure to investigate any complaint after it has been through the established procedures and where the complainant is still not satisfied.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London. Fax 0171782 3200. E-mail

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